The New, New Festivals of Odisha

Bara masare tera jaata (literally meaning thirteen festivals in twelve months, in Odia) is how Odias refer proudly to the abundancy of festivals in the state throughout the year. Whether it is the more pan-Indian festivals like Holi, Diwali, and Maha Shivratri; Eastern Indian festivals like Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja; Pan-Odisha festivals such as Rath Yatra, Raja and Kartik Purnima, or even more regional festivals within Odisha like Dhanujatra of Sambalpur or Thakurani Jatra of Berhampur—you will never have a period in a year without a generous amount of occasssions to celebrate. If there is nothing else, you have the 12 Samkrantis in a year, many of which have some extra add-ons: Dhanu Samkranti with the dhanu muan (a sweet preapared mostly but not only in South Odisha), Pana Samkranti with the pana (a special drink) and Makara Samkranti with the makara chaula (a special rice) and so on.

The modern day manifestation of that love is a series of new age cultural festivals (mostly music and dance) some of which have become sought after events by the culture loving crowd from India and abroad. The oldest and most popular in this genre is the Konark Festival. Originally started as Konark Dance Festival in 1989, this is the oldest annual pan-Indian classical dance festival in India. This is organized between 1 to 5 December every year jointly by the Guru Kelucharam Mohapatra Odissi Research Centre (GKCM-ORC) Bhubaneswar, along with Departments of Tourism and Culture, Government of Odisha. Artistes from India and abrod paricipate in this festival and perform all classical styles such as Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Chhau, and Mohiniattam. The 2011 festival also has the International Sand Arts Festival going along with it.

The second most popular festival outside Odisha, is the Mukteshwar Dance Festival, which along with Rajarani Music Festival, is known locally as Ekamra: The Temple City Festival and is organized in mid-January. Unlike Konark Festival, the focus of Mukteshwar Dance Festival is Odissi dance. Odissi performers–both groups and solo–from across the world participate in the this. Rajarani Music Festival, which does include non-Odissi classical music as well, is, however, not that well-known outside Odisha, even though it features well-known vocalists and instrumentalists from across India belonging to Odissi, Hindustani and Carnatic traditions. This year (2012), it featured Pandit Rajan and Sajan Mishra (Hindustani) and Pandit O S Arun (Carnatic), apart from Pandit Damodar Hota, an accomplished singer in both Hindustani and Odissi traditions.

A Dance Sequence in Mukteshwar Dance Festival 2012

I had the opportunity to attend the Mukteshwar Dance Festival this year on the first day. The performances were magnificent. But the attendance was thin. Apart from locals and some foreigners, there were hardly any Indian tourists from outside Odisha—ironic considering that it is primarily organized by the state Department of Tourism, with help from (GKCM-ORC).

Orissa Tourism is involved in organizing most of these events—including the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav. The Dhauli Mahotsave is organized by Orissa Dance Academy and is an Odissi dance festival. The Kalinga Mahotsav, on the other hand, is a martial dance festival and is organized by Department of Tourism.

The Department, in association with GKCM Odissi Research Centre and the Department of Culture, Govt of India, organizes annual International Festival of Odissi Dance in the last week of December. The 2011 festival was held between  23 to 30 December 2011.  It made to headlines for getting into the Guinnes Book of World Records for the largest number of dancers (555) dancing for close to  8 minutes. Otherwise, this is one of the prestigious festivals for the performers.

The other music and dance festivals include Gotipua Dance Festival in November, organized jointly by GKCM ORC and the Department of Tourism (this year’s edition is slated for 15 to 17  November 2012), Odissi Music Festival (organized this year between 8-10 January 2012), and  Konark Dance & Music Festival organized by the State Tourism Deaprtment, along with Sangeet Natak Academy, organized between 19 and 23 February 2012.

While this sudden flurry of activity in the state on the festival front has got some visibility for the state, so many festivals with similar focus and similar names has created a lot of confusion as well. The festivals are not marketed well which explains the thin attendance. For example, one fails to understand the rational of two festivals, Mukteswar Dance Festival and Dhauli Mahotsav, in a span of one month. Similarly, the February Konark Dance & Music Festival has created a lot of confusion, as the website for the festival is konarkfestival.com, which actually is the name of the December festival at Konark, the oldest classical dance festival in India with the temple as a backdrop.

Finding information at the website of the concerned organizers is an adventure in itself. You never know whether you land up in 2008 page or 2011 page. In short, despite organizing so many festivals–and organizing fairly well, to be fair to the organizers–the lack of coordination among the organizers (that is despite a common entity, Department of Tourism being involved in most) and the complete lack of long-term marketing, has not yielded results the way it should have. With so many Odias and Odisha-focused groups active in the social media, the organizers need to use them more effectively. Combining a few of these events together to create a fewer, larger events would actually make the marketing easier. Ideally, some spacing could help, as all these events are between November to February. But that is easier said than done, as in summer and rainy sessions,  it is next to impossible to do any mass events. They too are not tourist seasons in Odisha.

While there are too many dance and music festivals, Odisha Tourism has started to other initiatives–the Sand Arts Festival in Dec-Jan (9 Dec 2011 to 29 Jan 2012) this time and the Toshali National Crafts Mela, which was held between 15 to 27 December 2011.

But what is really heartening to note that there are efforts now, albeit among private groups and individuals, to shed Odisha’s image as a place of traditional culture alone. Two events are noteworthy on this account. The first, called India Surf Festival was organized between February 7-9 this year near the Konark-Puri Marine drive and saw participation of surfers from across the world and was a great success. The second, an avante-garde festival of films called, the Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF) which was held between 21 and 25 February 2012.

I am sure I am not aware of many more such initiative that must be happening and are in preparation. While all these festivals have the potential to make Odisha a hot tourist destination, there are gaps that need to be closed. Use of social media, good coordination among different bodies, a more effective use of the Odia diaspora and a good long-term marketing initiative can make Odisha a place where the old and new traditions meet seamlessly!

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Filed under Culture, Dance, Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia, Odissi Dance

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